Star Trek Meets the Next Generation

By Fisher, Bob | American Cinematographer, October 1994 | Go to article overview

Star Trek Meets the Next Generation


Fisher, Bob, American Cinematographer


Cinematographers Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC (Star Trek) and Marvin Rush, ASC (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine) bridge television's generation gap and discuss their experiences at the Final Frontier.

When the first Star Trek pilot was filmed 30 years ago in 1964, creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry wanted Lloyd Bridges to play the role of Captain Christopher Pike, but the actor turned him down. Jeffrey Hunter subsequently played the role, but the pilot never aired in its original form. Network executives felt it was too cerebral, and that Spock was too satanic for the public taste.

A second pilot, made in 1966, was to showcase Jack Lord in the captain's role, but Roddenberry and Lord couldn't come to an agreement. That opened the door for the inimitable William Shatner.

Since Star Trek first aired on September 8, 1966, there have been three additional TV series, seven feature films (with the latest due next month), well over 100 books, multiple videocassettes and laserdiscs, in addition to endless streams of merchandise. A poll several years ago indicated that 53 percent of Americans consider themselves Star Trek fans.

In 1987 Paramount Communications redefined the television landscape when they by-passed the three main commercial networks and released Star Trek: The Next Generation in first-run syndication. A slew of other original programs and movies made for first-run syndication have followed in its wake.

In many significant ways, Star Trek's 28-year lifespan has encapsulated the contemporary history of television film. The original 1966 series was photographed by Gerald Perry Finnerman, ASC. Star Trek: The Next Generation was shot by Marvin Rush, ASC, who subsequently went on to shoot Deep Space Nine, and is currently filming Star Trek: Voyager. The two collaborated last year when the original Star Trek cinematographer filmed many of the background elements used for digital compositing of Deep Space Nine scenes.

In a recent conversation in which the two compared Star Trek memories, Finnerman recalled his initial involvement with the show. "It was a fluke," he says, "I was working with Harry Stradling [ASC] on Walk, Don't Run in Japan. After we got back, we were working at Columbia for about a month. Harry came to me one day and said that Desilu was starting a TV series called Star Trek. They had asked his son, Harry Stradling, Jr., to shoot it, but he was already committed to Gunsmoke. I didn't think I was ready - I was only 32 but Harry encouraged me to talk to them. A Desilu executive said they would let me shoot an episode, and if they liked it, I could do the next one. I really wanted to work with Harry on Funny Girl, but he told me to try shooting Star Trek for 30 days. He said I could come back if it didn't work out."

Three days after he was hired, Finnerman was making suggestions. Scenes staged on alien planets were normally shot against a white eye background, but the setting was sterile. "It had no depth, so I asked if I could read three or four scripts in advance," Finnerman recalls. "One script was a love story. I said we should use warm tones to symbolize love, because color affects people psychologically, the same way music does. Another story occurred on a villainous, nefarious planet. It needed cold colors that chill your heart."

Roddenberry told him to shoot a small test, and director Joe Sargent was equally encouraging. Finnerman wanted to put some 10Ks up high, and cut gels for different color themes. He planned to have scoops shooting light up from below, which would allow him to blend different colors. A colored light was aimed at the eye, and costumed actors placed before it for the test shot. The filmmakers liked the results, and three days later, one of the heads of production at Desilu came onto the set with an $800-aweek contract.

With that test shot Finnerman began to establish a Star Trek look. It wasn't uncommon for him to use an 18mm lens, and occasionally a 9mm lens, to create a feeling of depth. …

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